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Wisconsin Republican lawmakers reject funding for UW-Madison engineering building

GOP lawmakers rejected funding Thursday for the University of Wisconsin’s top priority, the replacement of an engineering building on its flagship Madison campus, approving allocations for about 60% of the state government and UW projects sought by Gov. Tony Evers.

The Republican-controlled budget committee voted along party lines to fund nearly $2.4 billion in building projects statewide, down from the $3.8 billion Evers had asked for. Republicans called that an unrealistically high request. The cuts for building projects are similar to what Republicans did in each of the Democrat’s previous two state budget proposals.

Projects on UW campuses took the biggest hit. The Joint Finance Committee approved roughly half of the $1.8 billion Evers wanted for UW.

Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys, whose district includes the UW-Madison campus, blamed Republicans for cutting projects there because Madison is a Democratic stronghold.

Roys said about $110 million has already been raised, but those donors may back out if the state doesn’t fund the rest.

The engineering building was the single largest item requested for the flagship campus, with UW leaders saying a state-of-the-art facility would help attract and retain talented faculty members and students.

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin in February called it a “critical project” that would help boost economic development in the state.

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The committee did approve Evers’ plan to spend $285 million to replace the Camp Randall Sports Center, also known as the Shell, with a new indoor practice field for the Badgers’ football team. The new facility will include a 100-yard synthetic turf, underground parking and a 200-meter indoor track.

One UW System project approved by the committee was $231 million to demolish the science building at UW-Eau Claire and build a new facility to house several programs.

The committee approved the lower building funding total on a party-line vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against. It now becomes a part of the two-year state budget the committee is writing, which the full Legislature will likely vote on later this month or in early July. It would then head to Evers.

The amount approved, although lower than Evers requested, is more than the past two state budgets.

Two years ago, Republicans approved spending $1.5 billion on building projects out of the $2.4 billion that Evers proposed. In 2019, Evers’ first budget, Republicans approved $1.9 billion out of $2.5 billion that Evers wanted.

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